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BUCKINGHAM

Know, then, it is your fault that you resign
The supreme seat, the throne majestical,
The sceptered office of your ancestors,
Your state of fortune, and your due of birth,
120The lineal glory of your royal house,
To the corruption of a blemished stock,
Whiles in the mildness of your sleepy thoughts,
Which here we waken to our country’s good,
The noble isle doth want her proper limbs—
125Her face defaced with scars of infamy,
Her royal stock graft with ignoble plants,
And almost shouldered in the swallowing gulf
Of dark forgetfulness and deep oblivion;
Which to recure, we heartily solicit
130Your gracious self to take on you the charge
And kingly government of this your land,
Not as Protector, steward, substitute,
Or lowly factor for another’s gain,
But as successively, from blood to blood,
135Your right of birth, your empery, your own.
For this, consorted with the citizens,
Your very worshipful and loving friends,
And by their vehement instigation,
In this just suit come I to move your Grace.

BUCKINGHAM

Then you should know that we take fault with your resigning the supreme seat, the majestic throne, the sceptered office, of your ancestors—the power and greatness that destiny and your noble birth have handed you—to the wrong person. You aren’t respecting the lineage of your royal family. You’re lost in sleepy thoughts, and we have come to wake you to our country’s needs. This noble island has been compromised. She is scarred by the infamous deeds of King Edward IV. Her royal stock has been corrupted and nearly lost. We want that royalty remembered again. We heartily beg you, in all your goodness, to take upon yourself the responsibility and rule of this land, not merely as a servant, substitute, or other lowly agent of the king, but as the king himself. It is your birthright to be king. It’s for this reason that we are here—the citizens of England and your devoted friends. We strongly urge you on.

RICHARD

140I cannot tell if to depart in silence
Or bitterly to speak in your reproof
Best fitteth my degree or your condition.
If not to answer, you might haply think
Tongue-tied ambition, not replying, yielded
145To bear the golden yoke of sovereignty,
Which fondly you would here impose on me.
If to reprove you for this suit of yours,
So seasoned with your faithful love to me,
Then on the other side I checked my friends.
150Therefore, to speak, and to avoid the first,
And then, in speaking, not to incur the last,
Definitively thus I answer you:
Your love deserves my thanks, but my desert
Unmeritable shuns your high request.
155First, if all obstacles were cut away
And that my path were even to the crown
As the ripe revenue and due of birth,
Yet so much is my poverty of spirit,
So mighty and so many my defects,
160That I would rather hide me from my greatness,
Being a bark to brook no mighty sea,
Than in my greatness covet to be hid
And in the vapor of my glory smothered.
But, God be thanked, there is no need of me,
165And much I need to help you, were there need.
The royal tree hath left us royal fruit,
Which, mellowed by the stealing hours of time,
Will well become the seat of majesty,
And make, no doubt, us happy by his reign.
170On him I lay what you would lay on me,
The right and fortune of his happy stars,
Which God defend that I should wring from him.

RICHARD

I can’t tell which is the better course of action, to leave in silence or to scold you. If I don’t answer, perhaps you’ll think I’m accepting the heavy responsibility you foolishly want to impose on me. But if I do speak and refuse your request, then I’m guilty of reprimanding my friends, who have been faithful and loving toward me.
So, I’ll speak to make clear I don’t want the crown but also that I am grateful to you. Here is my definitive answer: thank you for your love, but I’m going to have to turn down your weighty request because I don’t deserve to be king. First of all, even if all the obstacles were eliminated and my path led straight to the crown—if it were truly my birthright—I would rather hide from my greatness than hide inside the greatness of the position itself and be smothered by it. My spirit is poor, and I have so many terrible defects that as king I would be like a little boat tossed about on a mighty sea. So, thank God, there is no real need for me, as I wouldn’t be able to help you much. The royal tree has left us other fruit, which, with time, will do just fine on the throne and make us all happy as king, I’m sure. Someone other than I has the right and the good fortune to be made king. God forbid that I snatch the crown from him.